One million Albanians haven’t read even one book over the last year, claims the Albanian Institute of Statistics. The same figure was the result of a survey conducted by the Albanian Publishers Association – this was the main topic of discussion in an activity held during the annual book fair between APA director, Petrit Ymeri, and other intellectuals, writers, translators, publishers, government representatives, and participating citizens.
Publishers claimed that this year’s book fair was rather successful, added that 200 new titles were introduced to the public. Publishers said that the fair is a good opportunity to promote their books and get more in touch with their readers and what they like. Apart from suggesting books, in many occasions they also received recommendations from readers on books they had enjoyed reading.
‘’It’s a big celebration, we had meetings with the readers and have received suggestions. The selection that we make is directed of expectations, that is why this year we had an Albanian writer, Enkel Demi with ‘Stones of solitude’ and Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro with ‘The remains of the day’,’’ said Loreta Berhami from publishing house Pegi.
However, scholar and collectionist Shpetim Sala said that publishers rely too much on the Book Fair to promote their books, and forget the rest of the year.
‘’We are surprised from the multitude of the titles, for 12 months it seems that the publishing houses take a break, while they come at the fair with books, when they have the chance to present them throughout the year,’’ said Sala.
Booths, books, children running around, people reading introductory notes, crowds coming in and going. As much as this event was enjoyable for its many good reasons, there was a lack of accomodating space for people to freely move around and inspect the books. The overall sensation given was ‘mess’, soothed by children holding books in their hands. Mess not only in the logistical sense of interior design, but also in terms of finding books. If a reader would enter with the idea of not knowing what book/s to grab, regardless of the variety, the books organization made it a bit harder.
Even though misticity is what makes reading a novel more enjoyable, there were so many options, which made it as exciting and confusing.
It is estimated that 50 percent of the books introduced were from Albanian authors. Except from already renowned authors our country possesses, there was a good number of new writers approaching the readers, trying to break barriers. Poetry, novels, prospective writers that try to speak of how they see reality, with a hope that readers will relate or get motivated from.
The winners of this Book Fair 2018 were also announced on Nov. 17, giving in total five awards. The prize of career was awarded to Albanian-Macedonian writer Kim Mehmeti for his novel ‘’The well.’’ The prize for best creativity was awarded to Brajan Sukaj, with his novel ‘’The cyclops.’’ The best translation was prized to Donika Omari for ‘’Farewell princess’’ of Kenize Mourad. Lastly, were given two encouraging awards for their originality and creativity to writers Iva Nikolli for her novel ‘’Just for you’’ and Flogerta Krypi for her ‘’Everything concerning nothingness.’’
There weren’t any awards given for children’s book however. Pandeli Koci, director of pan-Albanian Association of Writers for Young Children, said that there was a multitude of well-translated books, but there weren’t many Albanian writers to having produced a quality novel for children. This was the second year that this prize wasn’t awarded, and Koci is dubious about why there aren’t any good children’s books writers around.
Other issues were noted, too. Lazer Stani, writer and translator, said that the publishing houses treat the book as a business, and there is little priority to Albanian writers in general. Even though this Fair’s best seller was ‘’When rulers dispute,’’ the newest book of renowned writer Ismail Kadare, Stani said that more attention is being made to translations.
‘’One rarely finds an enjoyable translation, perhaps for the hastiness of publishing. Nowadays a translator must adapt four to five books a year to survive, whereas in the ‘60s a book would take two years to be translated,’’ said Stani.
Perhaps this hastiness amounts to a low quality of production which has potentially inflicted in the low readership, or perhaps it is a strategy for the publishing businesses to generate profit, as the tax policies on books are pretty messy. There is a high cost in production, and there is also a high tax for royalties, which discourages local writers.
‘’Excluding Kadare, the rest i don’t recognize. I don’t have any interest in reading Albanian writers, as no author touches the post-communist reality, all choose to avoid it,’’ said a reader.
This taxation also adds to the prices of the books, for which some readers have reacted negatively, claiming the prices are to high for the average buyer. This has a potential infliction in the low readership faced in Albania.
Even though this phenomenon is certainly global, as it was admitted in the round discussion during the book fair, there are reasons that have added to these numbers for our country specifically, and also strategies to follow to recover from this.
The Ministry of Culture has recently trying to push a ‘read books’ message through social media platforms and by engaging in various activities such as #LevizjaKombetarePerLexim (National movement for reading). Various meetings are organized for reading passages from favorite books, gifting books in various towns, and the latest policy was gifting five books to every newborn child in Albania.
However inviting these policies are, there are still some issues the government and especially the Ministry of Culture should take into account.
Firstly, there is still the issue of the National Library and the countless damaged texts from a rain flood suffered in June 2018. 12 thousand books are said to have been damaged, some of them beyond repair. What is more concerning though, is that no real rehabilitation is being done to the Library’s building.
Secondly, there are scarce public libraries inside neighbourhoods that citizens can borrow books. Milva Ekonomi, deputy of the Parliamentary Commission for Education and Public Information Tools (PCEPIT), said that in 2006 Albanian had 46 public libraries, a number which has drastically fallen, adding that the average Albanian read 11 minutes a day.
Another issue, is that in the already existing public libraries, there haven’t been any new books added since 2012. Finances lack even in restauration processes, except buying new books. There is also a lack of libraries in public schools as well.
Petrit Ymeri, the director of APA, has written a letter reminding some of the difficulties mentioned above that reading in Albania is facing and has forwarded it to Minister of Finances Arben Ahmetaj, Minister of Culture Mirela Kumbaro, PCEPIT director Albana Vokshi, Parliamentary Commission of Economy director Erion Brace, so measures can be taken to stop this phenomenon.